Teens Who Struggle To Differentiate Their Negative Emotions Are More Prone To Stress-Induced Depression

Posted on July 25, 2019

In order to recover from a negative emotion, we should first seek to identify it. There are different ways in which we deal with different negative feelings. Hence, by understanding what exactly we are feeling, we would be able to know how to make ourselves feel better.

The lack of ability to identify and distinguish between negative emotions is known as low Negative Emotion Differentiation (NED). Prior research has found that low NED is associated with depression, but it was difficult to determine the causal direction between the two. The association is also particularly strong in adolescents. To obtain a better understanding of this relationship, a longitudinal study was conducted with adolescents.

233 Americans from 14 to 17 years old were recruited for the study, which examines their NED, stressful life events and depressive symptoms. The participants underwent an interview where they were asked to describe life events which they found to be stressful and talked about their depression. Over the next 7 days, the adolescents completed cellphone questionnaires that required them to state how they felt four times a day and whether there were any troubles that they faced during the day.

After a period of time, the participants’ depression levels were measured again. Results suggest that the individuals who were comparatively less able to differentiate different negative emotions had a greater likelihood of experiencing a depressed mood after encountering a mildly stressful event. At the end of the study, they also showed more depressive symptoms, if they consistently faced stressful life events.

The findings show that low NED only predicts depressive symptoms in the long run if an individual experiences many stressful events during the period of time. When individuals are unable to distinguish the negative emotions they are currently experiencing, they are less prepared to manage these emotions. As such, the stressors they face often cause them to have difficulties dealing with the resulting negative emotions, leading to the surfacing of depressive symptoms.

A way to improve low NED could be by going through a process called 'affect labelling'. This process educates individuals on how they can comprehend and manage a wide range of negative emotions and has proven to help people respond to these emotions in an adaptive manner. This study has provided a greater insight to how depression might develop in youths, thus allowing more effective interventions to be created to help those who have a higher chance of suffering from depression.

Category(s):Depression, Stress Management

Source material from The British Psychological Society Research Digest